On the opening night of the Transcendence Theater Road Trip, it was hard to say who was having the most fun – the performers or the audience. During an uplifting evening which also more than once brought tears to my eyes, everyone on and off the stage was visibly thrilled to be a part of a live theater experience, after so much months without. It was a perfect reminder of the importance of live performance.
“Road Trip” is built around a collection of songs that Transcendence describes as “more pop-y” than a typical show. On a two hour trip across the country, nine singers / dancers energetically took us from California via Route 66 to Colorado, to Sweet Home Chicago, Georgia, Disney World, New York, New York, Virginia , Texas and Vegas, Baby, with several other stops along the way. There was even an unexpected detour to a town in the north of England that is part of my own cultural background – which may explain why it suddenly grabbed my throat – although the local audience seemed to appreciate it, too.
The nine performers put their heart and soul into their performances, supported by a group of very competent musicians. The self-accompanied interpretation of “Rocky Mountain High” by Billy Cohen was a highlight for me; hits like “Dancing in the Street” got audiences cheering and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” predictably brought cheers at the end. The choreography was intelligent, the dancers were lively, the vocals were excellent, the humor was well judged and the musicians were rhythmically tight. It was all surrounded by a patriotic – but not chauvinistic – commitment to creating an inclusive nation that felt truly essential at this point in time and something that the performing arts are well positioned to help create. In fact, as multi-diverse performers from all over America lined up to sing the words “my country”, I wondered if they all felt as included in the real world as they were here. .
As a newcomer to Sonoma County, this was my first experience of an event that has become an annual tradition for many – aside from last year, and if there was one thing Transcendence didn’t want. to do was focus on last year. In her introduction to the show, which made no reference to the pandemic, Transcendence Artistic Director Amy Miller exuberantly announced, “We will rebuild! With an offer like ‘Road Trip’ they deserve it – and I plan to do a Transcendence show my annual tradition too.
One final point – because while we might not want to think about the pandemic either, it is unquestionably still with us – the Transcendence website “strongly recommends” wearing a mask. However, my partner and I and the couple next to us were a very small number who did. The event takes place outside, but the seats are very close together. Frankly, we felt more secure with them. Fortunately, the evening was exhilarating enough to forget that we were wearing them or, for a few hours, that the pandemic existed at all.
Transcendence Theatre’s outdoor production “Road Trip”, directed and choreographed by Jessica Lee Coffman with Music Director Susan Draus, runs through August 29 outdoors at Jack London State Historic Park. Tickets and details for all of Transcendence’s upcoming shows are on https://transcendencetheatre.org/2021-saison-2/